Before serving as President of the American College of Surgeons (ACS) from 1927 to 1928, George David Stewart, MD, FACS, was well known as a clinical instructor. For almost 30 years, Dr. Stewart held well-attended weekly operative clinics at Bellevue Hospital in New York City that were characterized by his strong and dynamic presentations. As a lecturer on the subject of surgery, Dr. Stewart was considered to have few contemporaries and his work as a professor of surgery at Bellevue is considered to be his greatest work. “At the conclusion of each lecture he insisted that the notes should be destroyed. In this way, by constant re-preparation, he kept his mind virile,” wrote Arthur M. Wright, MD, in a 1933 issue of Surgery, Gynecology and Obstetrics.1
Dr. Stewart was known as a devoted teacher and the organizing force behind the creation of a surgical department, work that led to the eventual creation of the endowed George David Stewart Chair of Surgery at Bellevue Medical College. Dr. Stewart graduated from Bellevue Medical College in 1889, after which time he completed a one-year internship at Bellevue Hospital. For the next 44 years of his life, he devoted much of his professional life to Bellevue, holding the position of professor of surgery at the medical school from 1914 until 1933. In his ACS Presidential address, Dr. Stewart discussed “Idealism in Medicine,” and said “Teaching, of course, is the greatest medium for maintaining and exchanging ideals. It is indeed a mart of exchange where the teacher should give much but often gets more than he gives.”2
Aside from his work as a tireless educator, Dr. Stewart was also known for his work as a poet. One of his poems, A Tired Doctor’s Prayer, is included in the Eleanor K. Grimm Scrapbooks. In the poem, Dr. Stewart contemplates what it will be like after his life is over and his work as a surgeon is done. “But I’ll rest and rest through the silent days, / With no clock or silver chime / To remind me about my wasteful ways / Or hint that it’s ‘getting up time.’”3
In recalling how the Academy of Medicine mourned Dr. Stewart’s death, John A. Hartwell described in the Annals of Surgery, “His death bore testimony to the loss of a ‘forceful leader and teacher; a wise counselor, a kindly man and a dear friend…he was a dominant figure among his fellows.’”4
- Martin FH, Wright AM. Memoirs—George David Stewart. Surg Gyn and Obstet. 1933;LVI(4): 838-839.
- Presidential Address: George David Stewart. “Idealism in Medicine.” American College of Surgeons website. Accessed November 14, 2012.
- Eleanor Grimm Scrapbooks. American College of Surgeons website. Accessed November 14, 2012.
- Hartwell JA. George David Stewart, MD, 1862-1933. Ann Surgery. 1934:99(2):397-398.
ACS Archives Highlights is a series showcasing the vibrant history of the American College of Surgeons, its members, and the history of surgery. For further information on our featured highlights, search the Archives Catalog or contact the ACS Archivist.